Each year, on just about every NFL team, players miss voluntary workouts. It happens. The contract between the NFLPA and the league's owners clearly stipulates that attendance is optional. No coach or front office person will argue that. But every year when it happens, a certain segment of fans are unhappy.
So far in 2017, Jordan Reed, Trent Williams and Matt Jones have missed OTAs. The situations are unique.
"We all know that this is voluntary, so there’s really nothing that we can do," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday.
Last season, DeSean Jackson missed some OTA work for the Redskins. It didn't seem to affect his performance, as he posted more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2016 and landed a $35 million contract this offseason to go to Tampa via free agency. Still, many fans and some in the media found Jackson's behavior unfair to the rest of his teammates.
Jackson also had to battle the reputation that he was a bad teammate, something that emerged as the Eagles tried to smear his character after his illogical release from Philadelphia during the 2014 offseason. Ask Redskins players about DeSean, and the responses showed a cool, calm teammate that was mostly quiet in the locker room and a pro on the field. Attendance at OTAs made little impact on that perception.
Back to 2017. Let's address Reed and Williams' absence first.
No player on the Redskins, or probably in the NFL, will have a problem with Trent Williams choosing to work out in Oklahoma, on his own. Fans might not like it, but players and coaches don't seem to mind. Williams has made five straight Pro Bowls and graded out as the best tackle in football last season by Pro Football Focus.
Bill Parcells famously explained that life in the NFL is about treating every player fair, but not the same. What is fair for Williams isn't the same for other players.
Jordan Reed is not on Williams' level, yet, but is still an elite talent. Reed has also been part of an intense training regimen in Miami. Coming back from a shoulder injury, it's certainly possible the Redskins medical staff would like to have Reed in-house to watch his recovery, but the front office fully expects both players ready to go.
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"We’d like everybody to be here without a doubt, but at the end of the day, Jordan Reed is in Miami working out, Trent [Williams] is working out in Oklahoma," Gruden said.
Might a few Redskins players like to have Williams and Reed in Ashburn? Sure. Other top players like Josh Norman, Kirk Cousins and Terrelle Pryor are all at Redskins Park, working out with the rest of the team.
But would every player in the Redskins locker room defend the right of Reed and Williams to skip OTAs? Absolutely.
Remember, too, family situations and personal goals come into play at times. It's hard to know exactly the reasons a player would choose to work out elsewhere in the offseason.
As for Matt Jones, that situation is much more complicated. A third-round pick in 2015, Jones looks at the Redskins running back room and doesn't see a place for himself. He was already inactive the second half of 2016, and that was before the 'Skins added Samaje Perine in the draft.
Robert Kelley explained that he would love to have Jones at OTAs, but business decisions are different. Jones is in a tough spot, and perhaps he and his representatives think skipping OTAs is the best way to force the Redskins hand.
Reports of Washington looking to trade Jones popped up at the draft and continue to circulate. It's fairly clear, barring injury or something unexpected, Jones is not in the Redskins long-term plans at RB. From Jones' perspective, why go through optional workouts? It's also important to point out Jones has been at the Ashburn facility this offseason, and his teammates all speak highly of him.
"Matt Jones chose not to be here, so we obviously want people to work together and learn together, but it is voluntary at the end of the day," Gruden said.
Remember Parcells words. Williams and Reed are All Pro level players armed with massive contracts. Jones is fighting for a roster spot after a disappointing season. Missing OTAs hurts Jones far more than it does the other two, and that's if it hurts Williams and Reed at all. It's not the same, but it's fair.
There are two sides to every coin. Optional workouts are just that, optional. The players and coaches know it. At the same time, almost every player that will suit up in Burgundy and Gold this fall is sweating it out together in May, optionally.
For some players, OTAs mean much more than others. For some fans, too.
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